AFC South: Marcus Mariota
November, 15, 2013
AP PhotoCornerback Patrick Peterson, left, and the Cardinals could make life hard for the Jags' Chad Henne.JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars finally took 0-16 off the table with their 29-27 upset of Tennessee in Nashville.
But that doesn't mean things are wonderful in Jacksonville. The team still ranks last in the NFL in total offense and rush defense and next-to-last in rushing offense.
To the Jaguars' credit, the players said those same things almost immediately after the game and have repeated them throughout the week. Finally getting that first victory doesn't change the fact that the team still has a long way to go.
The Arizona Cardinals have won back-to-back games for the second time this season and find themselves in the hunt for a playoff spot. The offense hasn't been especially productive, but the defensive front has been stellar, which is why the Cardinals are the NFL's third-best rush defense.
ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss break down Sunday's matchup at EverBank Field:
DiRocco: Josh, running back Rashard Mendenhall has really struggled this season. Rookie Andre Ellington has clearly outplayed him, yet coach Bruce Arians seems to be sticking with Mendenhall. What gives?
Weinfuss: If I had the answer to that question, I would sell it to Arians, retire and be living on a beach. Nobody really knows. There are a few guesses as to why, but the most common one is that Arians is simply loyal to players he brings in. Mendenhall was Arians' handpicked running back, and the coach will go with him through thick and thin. There's also the fact that Arians doesn't consider Ellington an every-down back. Arians would rather give Mendenhall the brunt of the carries -- especially between the tackles -- while he uses Ellington out in space. That said, Arians won't shy away from using Ellington more than Mendenhall throughout the game if the rookie has the rhythm.
After getting their first win, are the Jags feeding off that momentum, or are they basking a little bit in not being a winless team?
DiRocco: The Jaguars certainly enjoyed their first victory, but I would call it a tempered excitement. In the locker room after the game, players talked about fixing mistakes and staying humble. That message was reiterated Monday and Wednesday. The players remember what happened after the Denver game. They played relatively well against the Broncos, trailing 14-12 at halftime before eventually losing by 16 in a game in which they were 28-point underdogs. They figured the progress they showed would naturally continue, but they followed that performance by playing two of their worst games of the season, against San Diego and San Francisco. The players say they've learned their lesson and that won't happen again. We'll have to see Sunday if that's the case.
Like the Jaguars, the Cardinals are searching for a long-term answer at quarterback. But they're also in contention for a playoff berth, so they're not likely to be picking near the top of the draft. Louisville standout Teddy Bridgewater, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel are probably out. So which quarterbacks to do you think they have their eyes on, and which would be the best fit?
Weinfuss: I think this draft could be the long-term answer to the Cardinals' quarterback situation. If the Cardinals end up in the playoffs, they won't be picking near the top, which means they might get their hands on a college veteran. I've liked Aaron Murray from Georgia for a long time, and I think he's the type of player who can come in and have the talent to play right away. Another guy who could benefit the Cardinals is LSU senior Zach Mettenberger. They are both pocket passers who have big arms and are smart. Mettenberger might pick up an NFL offense quicker than Murray, because he's been running an NFL offense under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Arians' offense calls for a big arm, but I think Arians is seeing what life is like in the NFC West, facing mobile quarterbacks like Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, who can run and have big arms. Both Murray and Mettenberger could benefit from playing behind Carson Palmer for another season, if the Cardinals bring Palmer back. If a slinger like Clemson's Tajh Boyd is available, I wouldn't be shocked to see him drafted. At the same time, I also wouldn't be surprised if Arizona waits on a quarterback until the second or third round, hoping a gem like Wilson is available then.
Speaking of quarterbacks, is Chad Henne the short-term or long-term answer, and what will the Jags do with Blaine Gabbert?
DiRocco: Right now, Henne gives the Jaguars a better chance to win than Gabbert, but Henne isn't the long-term answer for the franchise. The Jags' first pick in the 2014 draft -- whether it's No. 1 or not -- will almost certainly be a quarterback. That's a clear indication that the team is ready to move on without Gabbert, who was the No. 10 overall pick in 2011. I would be surprised if he's on the roster next season. Henne will be a free agent after the season and might opt to go somewhere else to compete for a starting spot. If he decides to come back to Jacksonville, it would likely be to serve as a mentor to whichever quarterback is drafted.
Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson has shadowed top receivers Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith and Andre Johnson and did a good job against them. I'm assuming he'll draw Cecil Shorts on Sunday. Is that the case, and where do you think Peterson ranks among the league's top corners?
Weinfuss: If Shorts is the Jags' top receiver threat, then Peterson will most likely draw that assignment. Peterson prides himself on stopping the opponent's top receiver, as he has done in wins against Detroit and Houston -- despite two touchdowns by Andre Johnson that were barely inbounds. Peterson is no doubt one of the top two or three cornerbacks in the game, and depending on how you grade them, he could be the best. He's definitely the most athletic, but sometimes his fundamentals aren't as sound as they should be. He's shown that size doesn't matter as he takes on bigger players and makes them all but a nonfactor.
Is the Jacksonville defense better than people give it credit for, or is its 32nd ranking in stopping the run an accurate representation of the unit?
DiRocco: It's pretty bad. The defensive line, outside of Sen'Derrick Marks, has played pretty poorly. It has been physically handled way too often, has poor gap control and has had trouble with missed tackles. Linebacker Geno Hayes has been inconsistent, and there are three rookies in the secondary. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny has been terrific, but he might not play this week because of a concussion.